Since we started doing daily celebrity coverage a couple of years ago, you guys have picked up on the same phenomenon I have: a star’s cultural clout is almost always inversely proportional to the quality of her handbag collection. There are exceptions here and there–most notably, Reese Witherspoon–but the reason that reality stars and tabloid fixtures love carrying designer bags is the same reason that many of us do, or at least why we did when we started.

Designer bags occupy a unique spot at the intersection of function and fashion, which makes them widely marketable in a way that designer clothing just isn’t. A lot more people will consider adding a $2,000 bag to their wardrobes than a $2,000 dress from the same designer, and that means that bags are recognizable to a large audience that typically goes beyond just the fashion-obsessed.

All of personal style is about clothing as a social language, and designer bags’ work particularly well for people who want to telegraph status and privilege. They sit out in front of the body in position of maximum visibility, they can be carried often for maximum impact and they usually have some sort of branding that marks them as expensive and special, even for people who know little about fashion. They’re a perfect status symbol in much the same way that expensive cars are.

That makes bags an ideal gateway into high-end fashion for a lot of consumers, and it also makes them essential wardrobe fixtures for D-listers trying to milk their notoriety and convert new fans. An expensive, of-the-moment bag marks a woman as savvy, successful and stylish, all of which are the cues that someone climbing the fame ladder has a vested interest in sending to the public. That’s how you get reality starlets like Dorothy Wang, whose luxury goods are a large part of the premise for her fame; the Kardashian sisters’ penchant for expensive things, bags chiefly among them, has also helped raise their profiles over the years. They might even be proof that, with the right people, the scheme can work.

On the other hand, stars whose profiles have been crafted more traditionally–with award-winning movie roles or critically acclaimed albums–are less likely to use their personal style to signal to their fans in the same way. Women like Adele and Julianne Moore don’t necessarily need to be seen in the context of success’ trappings every time they go outside because their cultural value isn’t in question.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that those stars don’t have elaborate closets full of fine clothing and bags; they all do, almost without exception. They just don’t present themselves public in the same elaborate way; Naomi Watts slinging on a casual Givenchy bag to go trick-or-treating feels appreciably different than Kim Kardashian clearly planning an outfit around debuting an incredibly rare Birkin. The messages are distinct.

That fashion has this power, of course, is just another reason to love it. Even if it means that more often than not, the stuff we’d love to own shows up on the arms of people who we hate to envy.

P.S. Please consider supporting our small, bag-loving team by clicking our links before shopping or checking out at your favorite online retailers like Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or any of the listed partners on our shop page. We truly appreciate your support!

Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • magnoliashops726

    The think you’re missing though, is that not all of these reality stars come from nothing and are not, consequently, sporting expensive bags as a way to show their “sudden” success. The Kardashians were a successful, Brentwood, Hollywood family long before the reality cameras. They were raised wealthy. Dorthy Wong, especially, has not altered her personal style for the cameras. She comes from a billionaire mogul’s family and is herself worth over 10 million dollars, even before she determines exactly what it is she’d like to do for a living. She most likely wore Chanel diapers. Theories are great but just because we think it doesn’t make it true. :-)

    • Stina Sias

      I thought that what the article is saying is that reality stars rely on branding more in general since they don’t endear themselves to the public by making great music or movies- regardless of their wealth. I have never heard of Dorothy Wong, perhaps seeing her with a cool bag in a picture like this will endear her to me or at least help me to remember who she is (it might- so cute!). Whereas regardless of what bag Naomi Watts carries, I will always recognize her.

      • dorothy9526

        just before I looked at the receipt saying $5492 , I didnt believe …that…my neighbour was like they say actualey erning money parttime on their laptop. . there mums best friend haz done this less than nine months and just now paid for the debts on their home and purchased Nissan GT-R: . check this….>> -> be yr own boss work anytime!!! <-

    • Stina got at my point below–it’s more important for reality stars to be in your face with their financial success, no matter when it came, than it is for stars who are more traditionally famous. It’s not, “Look at me, I’ve made it,” as much as it is, “Look at me, I’m fantastic and you want to know about me.” The timing of their wealth is immaterial.

    • anon

      I think that maybe she didn’t choose the best reality star examples that make her point more clear. Rather than Dorothy Wang and the Kardashians, who grew up wealthy, maybe others along the lines of the Jersey Shore people would have been better.

  • Guest

    Reese Witherspoon, Miss “Do You Know Who I Am?”, is no exception. She’s just as bad as the rest.

  • Fiona-Brasil

    What a shallow article good for nothing….Just a bunch of generalities.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree. I found this post quite catty.

  • And?

    And the point of/reason for this article was…. (?)

    • Why?

      Good Question! It seems like the post is blasting these people. What did they do wrong? Dorothy Wang didn’t choose to have a billionaire father. Personally I do not like Kim K but I do love her choice of bags.

      • Guilt

        Well I have a billionaire father and I choose not to attract the sort of attention that woud egg on kidnappers

      • Stina Sias

        lol that’s hilarious

      • Anonymous

        ikr

  • Sarah

    I’m not sure why Dorothy Wang is featured in this “article.” It just doesn’t explain to me how she is on the same level as the Kardashians.

    Clearly, she only has the best bags in her closet and it’s not like she’s going to deliberately go out to purchase an inconspicuous no-name bag to carry in public just b/c she doesn’t want to be in the same category as a Kardashian.

    • Mel

      I agree! She has had them since before RKOBH! Her dad has a net worth of like $3Billion.. People started to notice her because of the show! With out it she would just be another LA girl with a bunch of money to spend.

  • Aliza Zibkoff

    I understand the concept very well. It was a major strategy in high school! But does it really work now? I’m I really going to admire someone because of their handbag to the extent of completely ignoring all the other nonsense that goes on in their own self imposed overexposed lives? I don’t think people are that superficial. They may like the bags they carry and even admit it they like them but that won’t stop them from looking down their noses at them for many other reasons.

    • troll

      God forbid a handbag prevent you from looking down on someone!

      • Aliza Zibkoff

        I think its a sad statement when the only thing you can admire about a person is her handbag. Don’t you? I never was a fan of Angeline Jolie but I respect the sincerity in her charity work. Isn’t that better than having nothing better to say than a left handed complement? (“well at least her bag’s nice.”)

  • So judgy.

    Since when did being a “real actress” or winning a Grammy entitle people to judge a woman’s motives behind carrying or even flaunting a bag?

    I’m no fan of the Kardashians (I find her style, not her career, vulgar and hideous), but this article comes off so snarky and patronizing. Posts like this affirm why women can be so judgy of one another…

    Such personal opinions of the author should not be published as if it’s some universal explanation of two sets of celebrities and their “strategy” or lack thereof in carrying such bags.

    The only thing the author feels is “different” between Watts slinging a “casual” Givenchy (whatever that means) vs. a Kardashian planning an outfit around a birkin is her judgment that reality stars are somehow less qualified or deserving of carrying such bags than real actresses. Why does the former need to have some hidden agenda or marketing tactic when Miss Watts or Moore get a pass?

    Couldn’t it just be that Miss Wang/Kardashian and Miss Watts/Moore have two very different tastes?? – which last time I checked, women are entitled to have with no explanation required.

    • Aliza Zibkoff

      I think the biggest difference between the actresses mentioned and the reality stars is that the actresses actually made their bones as professionals. They went to school, the did the bits parts, they worked their way up. Can we say the same about reality stars? I can totally understand Amanda’s hypothesis of why reality-celebs would want to use a expensive brand handbag to gain a little legitimacy. People hide behind status symbols when they feel they don’t have enough of it themselves.

    • FrenchFries

      I think it’s naive to think they have simply different tastes. It’s not the case every time that when you’re a reality star it automatically means there’s an agenda behind your outfit or bag choice. But it almost always is. That’s why they’re called a “reality star” not simply a star. They become successful (depending on who you ask) on making a brand out of their lifestyle and their persona rather than making accomplishments that are truly worthwhile. It’s all about the image for them – the ultimate celebrity phenomenon.

    • I wanted to clarify some things, because I think I didn’t do a great job of fleshing out my entire opinion on this topic. As a writer, that’s on me.

      I intend no judgment toward reality stars; in fact, I’m a huge fan of Kim Kardashian, to the point where a commenter on a recent post about her accused me of being on the Kardashian payroll. (I wish.) I love that she carries the bags that she does, and I think that people often underestimate how hard she works and her level of “deservingness.” If I worked as much as she does, I’d probably be hospitalized right now.

      What I was trying (and apparently, failing–again, that’s on me) to get at is that when your fame is non-traditional, like the Kardashians or the Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, your image is the product that you’re selling in a way that it doesn’t have to be for stars who act or sing or whatever else. Image is important to those stars, of course, but it’s a smaller piece of the puzzle and doesn’t reach into their downtime as much as it does when you’re trying to sell overall interest in your life.

      I think it’s fascinating how handbags play into the crafting of that image and the formation of that product, and that’s what I was hoping this article would convey. And I think that the “product” that they’re selling is totally legitimate, and that anyone who has the money to buy a product is absolutely and totally deserving of having it and carrying it however they see fit. I will go to the mat for the right of any woman to make those choices for themselves, without judgment from the peanut gallery.

      Not only that, but I’m appreciative of the fabulous bags that reality stars tend to choose–it makes my job notably easier than if they weren’t carrying them. This article came about because commenters on posts about reality stars tend to get irritated from time to time that we don’t focus more on traditional stars and their bags, and I wanted to address the perception of that disparity.

  • seres

    I agree about expensive bags being status symbols but could it be that we judge the bag carried by a “untalented” famous person more than one we admire for their more agreeable skills. God knows we judge the person more.

  • Guest

    Dorothy Wang‘s family is loaded. And rich asian girls like bags. So there your go.

  • Mel

    To jump to her defense (please don’t hate) Dorothy Wang has been rich since before RKOBH thanks to her daddy’s wallet, so she has had many of her bags way before she even was in a reality show. The Kardashians on the other hand.. They started getting the Birkins waaaaay after the premiere of KUWTK. (tbt to season one and their extremely shiny, and in my opinion tacky, LVs)

  • Jay

    I’m surprised that a reputable website like this, has decided to judge, label and point fingers at public figures. Did Perez Hilton buy TPB?

  • Colin

    Then why do A-listers carry anything BUT the best, most high-end, expensive designer bags if it’s not to market themselves or to associate themselves with exclusivity? If A-listers don’t need to self-promote an image, why aren’t we seeing them all just carry discounted thrift store bags?This post reeks of hypocrisy and naivety.

  • T.U. A.

    …… So, we tell ourselves “it’s my money and I can do whatever I want to do with it” and buy $$$$ designer goods. But on the other hand, we criticize others spending their money on designer handbags just because of their personalities/careers/styles? I don’t care how they get the money, it’s their OWN money anyway, right? And I believe, most people want to be famous, or at least get more attention from the public. It’s from the human nature. So I also don’t see the real difference between movie stars that won awards and reality “stars” that buy tons of designer goods — they all want to get accepted by the public/ attention from others. They just choose different approaches. :/

  • Ruth Moore

    Thumbs up for the bag. No matter who is wearing them, it’s lovely for me. Reminds me handbag I got from http://www.robecart.com

  • Cecilia

    There are celebs who are very obvious about their handbags and those that aren’t. Beyoncé once carried the Dior Samurai bag which was extremely expensive and had no purpose to be carried (as it didn’t even match her outfit) other than the fact that it cost so much. This is a bit too complex a topic to really cover here in this blurb of an essay.

  • Mya Wilkes

    That’s a gorgeous Kelly!

  • Aron William Levy

    Probably the cattiest ad to come from a female, talking down other females. Dorothy Wang is great, Kim K is getting paid. You’re just the girl that writes about their purses.. You should keep it that way.

    • Aron – I believe what Amanda was addressing is more of the notion of who we see some of the best bag collections on, not talking poorly about those people. Amanda is one of the most supportive people I know when it comes to other women and I know this article being read differently was not her intention.

  • realitytvjunkie

    but why is Dorothy Wang a “worst celebrity”?

  • alfex_silver

    I enjoyed this article, not sure why everyone is overreacting to it. You make an excellent point – people whose cultural value is not in question dont need to try as hard and its very evident.

    • Jerri R

      I myself thought this was the best article on this site yet. It put things in perspective of this particular type of consumption. Made me think of why I never see the more accomplished people featured here switching among dozens and dozens of super expensive bags.

  • Anonymous

    Really? As many have already posted, Dorothy Wang has NOTHING to do with “worst celebrity.” Her dad is a billionaire and she has had these bags PRIOR to the show. The Kardashians also had a rich father, but not a billionaire and they began carrying certain bags, such as the Birkin, only a few years ago. So Amanda Mull, keep this website, for it’s purpose: PURSES. Not who is deserving of a so-called bag. And who were you? Nothing but a blogger that writes and pretends that as if they have all of the bags in the world. So relax, I suggest you take this post down and apologize, for the sake of your integrity and PurseBlog.

  • Bo

    Ha! I hope Dorothy Wang read this!!!

  • amanda ho slutz

    This article ia totally unreliable and amanda must have been high on joint when she wrote this. Fuck u

  • twirler

    so you’re bashing reality tv stars for carrying the SAME BAGS you write about and praise on a daily basis?!?! can we please move this website back to simply covering purses and stop it with the wannabe editorials?

  • Guest

    I like visiting PurseBlog but I felt this label or “worst celebrity” was a bit harsh. If you don’t someone personally how can you know how bad they are? Maybe she just likes the bag!
    This is a purse blog where you feature high end bags every day that the average woman can’t afford after all.

    I think you’re looking into it deeper than it needs to be. Like Santino once said on Project Runway, “Lighten up, it’s just fashion”.

    I love handbags too much to not continuing reading your blog, but I think we as women should build each other up, not judge a woman for liking or using a bag no matter how much of a “status” bag it is or if it came from Payless.

  • Stylium

    Amanda,a huge thumbs down for this article.Whether it was your intention or not to do whatever,this is so wrong.So she is a worse celebrity because she did not take the traditional career path?how dare you demean a fellow woman that way.this is a major example of women pulling down other women.this is unfair.please never do this again for the sake of other women around the work trying to make a mark in their own little way.

  • elisian

    Excellent post! I love your analysis here.

    I think the trend that reality stars and others with dubious claims to fame carry the best bags and have the best style is replicated about “ordinary” high-income women more generally; those with wealth and social status are less likely to flaunt their wealth with “designer” items like logo-baring or identifiable handbags. For many women, this is a deterrent to associating themselves with designer bags.

    We even see this mentality among handbag lovers – for example on the Purseblog forums – where so many people want something “subtle” and “no logo”, myself included! I would not be willing to carry an LV tote, for example, though it’s a far more affordable item than functionally equivalent bags from Fendi or Saint Laurent, because it’s much, much more identifiable as a “designer bag” and is a style statement I don’t want to make.

  • Spookie

    I wish you would move on from the Kardashians, it is getting real old I use to enjoy this blog but I am tired of the sameness.

  • londonhermit

    I’m the avi who believes you’re a shill for the kkk’s but don’t worry I think a few other bloggers are too.

  • Courtney

    OH MY GOD I saw the same handbag Dorothy is shown with at http://neatstacks.com. I was going to buy but they were so cheap I thought they might be fake.

  • Stephen Belcamino

    These are the best bags I’ve seen for the price… you can learn a lot here http://youtu.be/bv1Rh-YnQ7w

  • wish

    I just started reading and enjoying this blog until I came upon this article and got turned off. However much this blogger explains her point the title screams “JUDGY and CATTY”. What makes you generalize that reality stars’ cultural value needs to be questioned more than actresses? Maybe you should question your cultural value when check out a woman’s purse.

  • I’d love to see a celebrity using one of my bags.